Students gear up for testing

Students at Lexington Traditional Magnet School wore crazy wigs, weird hairstyles and blindingly colorful socks one day last week.

The next day, boys at LTMS donned suits and ties, while the girls put on fancy dresses and pantsuits.

Similar goings-on were sighted at most elementary and middle schools in the Fayette County Public School system last week. There were all manner of parades, variety shows, contests and skits, sometimes with local celebrities taking part.

The strange conglomeration of events was designed with one goal: getting youngsters relaxed and fired up for statewide student testing, which gets under way at elementary and middle schools this week.

Such hoopla has been common in previous years as schools annually prepared for the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, known more generally as CATS.

But there is no CATS test this year. The Kentucky General Assembly abolished CATS earlier this year to make way for a new testing system that will start in 2012.

In the interim, Kentucky students are being tested to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. However, the Kentucky Department of Education will not compile a statewide accountability index based on the tests.

Even without the accountability index, teachers and officials in the Fayette County Public Schools say they're approaching this year's tests just as seriously as ever.

"Fayette County is taking it pretty seriously, because I think Mr. Silberman (Fayette Superintendent Stu Silberman) is going to hold us accountable whether the state does or not," said Joyce Turner, a counselor at LTMS. "I think the schools want to make sure the kids understand that even though there are changes this year, we're going to take the testing very seriously."

Silberman has said previously that Fayette County would prepare its own index from this year's tests in lieu of a report from the state. Silberman contended that parents and the general public have come to expect such a report, and that Fayette schools want to be held accountable for the job they're doing.

Late last week, however, the school district said it will set aside plans for its own index, because three private Kentucky education advocacy groups have announced plans to prepare an annual statewide index of student performance.

Those groups — the Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Association of School Councils and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence — said they'll publish their "transitional index" each fall over the next three years, based on test scores to be provided by the state.

Jane Dreidame, principal at Lexington's Southern Middle School, said schools are preparing for this year's testing just as vigorously as in previous years.

"Just because the state is not scrutinizing us as they once did, we're not slacking up on what we want to achieve," Dreidame said. "It's still a big deal to us, because our kids want to see what they're capable of doing and what they've accomplished, and our teachers want to be able to measure their students' growth."

Southern Middle prepared for testing Thursday afternoon with its own Olympics-style event, in which student teams competed in events with themes built around next week's tests.

"The kids are excited ... and they've worked hard all year," Dreidame said. "It's really not about the test; it's about how much our students have learned."